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Boston Non-Profit Holds Adoption Seminar for LGBTQ Minorities

by Francisco L. White

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday May 24, 2012

On May 16, the Boston-based non-profit Hispanic Black Gay Coalition, in collaboration with [email protected] and the MIT UA Finboard, presented "Adoption in the LGBTQ Community", a seminar targeting prospective adoptive parents who identify as LGBTQ and are from ethnic minority backgrounds, especially African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos.

"We have an ongoing commitment to recruit as diverse a pool of adoptive parents as possible because we serve a diverse group of children. More than half of the waiting children are of color, and we aim to increase the number of prospective parents of color as well," said Diane Tomaz, a Child Services Coordinator with Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE), who facilitated the seminar.

The seminar, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Stratton Student Center, was partially funded by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Tomaz, who said that she and her partner have adopted two boys from the foster care system, noted that approximately 20 percent of the adoptions that MARE assisted in facilitating last year alone were to LGBT households. Massachusetts' law allows LGBTQ individuals and couples to adopt, unlike some states, which only permit adoption by an LGBTQ individual.

Most states, such as North Carolina (notorious for its anti-gay legislation and lack of legal protections), do not explicitly prohibit joint adoption by LGBTQs, but leave room for biased interpretations and practices that negatively effect LGBTQ persons trying to adopt.

In Utah, Code 78B-6-117(3) prohibits adoption by "a person who is cohabiting in a relationship that is not a legally valid and binding marriage;" this makes it legal for a single person to adopt, regardless of sexual orientation, but not cohabitating, unmarried persons. Since gay marriage is not recognized in Utah, LGBTQ couples are not able to adopt. Fortunately, in Massachusetts, sexual orientation is not an issue when it comes to adoption or marriage.

Christopher Dixon of the HBGC's Board of Directors introduced Tomaz and the panel of four speakers, all of whom are LGBT adoptive parents and minorities. One of the panelists was local business owner David Venter, who spoke at length about the challenges he and his partner faced during and after the adoption process.

"But if you connect with a child and they connect with you, you can work through it," said Venter, who adopted a boy through the DCF. Another panelist, Robert Chambers, also adopted a child through the DCF.

"Cambridge Family and Children Service was very diplomatic. They were very inclusive and supportive of us. We were never made to feel different," said Chambers of the experience he and his partner had adopting their son.

Another panelist, Jasmine, said she and her partner adopted their son through a private agency, adding, "In Massachusetts, we're really privileged that being gay is not an issue."

According to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families' first quarterly report for FY2012, 25 percent of the children in the state's foster care system are either Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino, (11 percent and 14 percent, respectively).

"Statewide, 46 percent of all consumers in placement were White, 17 percent were Black, 26 percent were Hispanic/Latino," reads the report. The difference between children in foster care and those considered "consumers in placement" is the latter are actually in a pre-adoptive home, whereas those in foster care are not even necessarily eligible for adoption.

"We have an ongoing commitment to recruit as diverse a pool of adoptive parents as possible because we serve a diverse group of children...more than half of [which] are children of color," said Diane Tomaz.

But statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that approximately 6.6 percent of the state's population is Black and 9.6 percent is Hispanic, a combined total of only 16.2 percent. In both cases, the disproportion of minority children is noteworthy.

"The LGBT community specifically has responded to the call for permanent homes for these children and done an exceptional job of parenting. Last year alone, 11 percent of MARE-assisted placements resulted in children being placed with LGBT families of color," said Tomaz.

Adoption Parties Match Kids With Families

During the seminar, panelists explained that the adoption process can vary in time length, but there are definite steps that everyone must go through. Those considering adoption must inquire with the appropriate agency and complete a Registration of Interest form; in Massachusetts, they must contact either the DCF or a contracted agency such as Cambridge Family and Children Service.

"With a contracted agency, they're smaller and you will get more personal care. That doesn't always happen with DCF," said Tomaz. Next, the prospective family will undergo background checks for every family member over the age of 14, and a Physical Standards Check to ensure the safety of the home. Prospective parents must then complete the Massachusetts Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP) training course.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services website, the MAPP course covers relevant topics such as communication, self-esteem building, discipline and child guidance. A social worker will then conduct an in-home interview that Tomaz described as "necessarily intrusive," request references and prepare what is called a Home Study document. Ultimately, DCF will review the documentation and make a decision as to whether the family is approved for one or more children.

Of course, there is more to the process than these steps. In fact, finding the right child is a process in itself, and there is more than one way to proceed. Perhaps the most unconventional way is to attend what is called an adoption party. These events allow prospective adoptive families to observe children who are available for adoption, in a variety of social activities, and interact with them. As odd as adoption parties may sound to some, they tend to be quite successful, with Tomaz noting that, "60 percent of our matches last year were made through adoption parties."

Another way to locate an available child is to go through a licensed domestic adoption agency, such as Adopt Help, which specializes in connecting pregnant women with families who are looking to adopt. Adopt Help is based in California, but provides assistance throughout the United States. Attendees were introduced to these possible avenues, in case they decide to go through the adoption process.

Tomaz also clarified that prospective families "do not need to be homeowners, married, or have a specified minimum income," but must be determined fit to provide adequate care overall. As panelist David Venter pointed out, it is the new family's job "to help these kids reach their potential."

The "Adoption in the LGBTQ Community" seminar was as informative as it was inclusive. But despite a passionate facilitator and a panel of equally passionate and knowledgeable individuals, each of whom provided candid accounts of their adoption experiences as LGBT minorities, attendance was somewhat disappointing. Those there were immersed in information that is not only relevant to LGBT and/or minorities who are considering adoption, but useful to anyone who plans to embark on that journey.

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